Study: State Help Comes Too Late for Students Facing Calif. Exit Exams

California’s remedial interventions may be coming too late to do much good for high school upperclassmen working to pass the exit exam required for graduation, according to a study released by the Public Policy Institute of California.

California is one of 25 states to require students to take an exam in order to qualify for a high school diploma, and since the state implemented the California High School Exit Exam in 2006, it has also been used to gauge high schools’ adequate yearly progress for federal education accountability.

As of 2010, the institute found nearly a third of students fail the test on their first try, usually in grade 10, and one in 16 students cannot pass both the mathematics and English/language arts portions by their senior year (Students can take the the two-part exam once in grade 10, twice in grade 11 and up to five times in grade 12.)

Several state and local programs intended to help students tackle the test have been implemented since 2006. A team led by Julian R. Betts, economics professor at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed the effectiveness of three: state programs to support district funding for tutoring in 11th and 12 grades; state grants for districts to support students who continue to fail the exit exam by senior year; and San Diego public school test preparatory classes for 11th and 12th grade students who have failed mathematics or language arts portions of the exam.

The researchers used data from students in the classes of 2006 through 2009 to model the effectiveness of those interventions. They found the number of students taking the test preparation classes in San Diego has risen steadily, from 449 for the class of 2006 to 1,817 in the class of 2009. And taking a preparatory course did help students scores significantly in the particular subject prepped—in 2008-09, students who took subject-specific prep classes were 20 percent more likely to pass the math portion and 31 percent more likely to pass the language arts portion of the test—but the students did not increase their chances of passing the overall exit exam. As a whole, both supplemental tutoring and prep classes only improved the number of students passing the exit exams by 1.5 to 3 percent.

“It’s clear that we need better ways to help students in high school—or new efforts to help them prepare for the exam well before they first take it in grade 10,” Betts said in a statement on the study.

The report also noted that students are increasingly looking to take test preparation classes in earlier high school grades, though the state programs only support them at upper grades. Betts and his team argued that interventions to improve exit exam passing rates must be based on thorough content instruction from early grades on, not just supplemental help at the end of a student’s academic career.

Via Sarah D. Sparks, Education Week.

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Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find

Two new studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that community colleges unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes — and that their placement decisions would be just as good if they relied on high school grade-point averages instead of standardized placement tests.

The studies address one of the most intractable problems of higher education: the dead end of remedial education. At most community colleges, a majority of entering students who recently graduated from high school are placed in remedial classes, where they pay tuition but earn no college credit. Over all, less than a quarter of those who start in remedial classes go on to earn two-year degrees or transfer to four-year colleges.

The studies, one of a large urban community college system and the other of a statewide system, found that more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes based on their test scores could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher.

“We hear a lot about the high rates of failure in college-level classes at community colleges,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, the author of the urban study and a Teachers College professor of economics and education and senior research associate. “Those are very visible. What’s harder to see are the students who could have done well at college level but never got the chance because of these placement tests.”

The colleges’ use of the leading placement tests — the College Board’s Accuplacer and ACT’s Compass — lead to mistakes in both directions, the studies find, but students going into college-level classes they cannot handle is not as serious as unnecessary remedial placement, which often derails college careers.

Although the placement tests have been widely used since the late 1980s, students rarely understand how much is at stake. Typically, students are told that they need not worry about the tests because they are for placement — and very few colleges encourage them to prepare as they would for a college-entrance exam like the SAT. (Read more.)

Via Tamar Lewin, The New York Times.

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Study Shows Developmental Summer Bridge Programs Help

A two year random assignment study of ‘developmental summer bridge’ programs in Texas has found that students enrolled in the programs have an increased chance of passing college level math and writing in their first 18 months of college compared to those who do not attend such bridge programs. The students in the program, who were tested below college level prior to participation, were 7% more likely to pass college level math and 5% more likely to pass college level writing.

The NCPR study is the first to use a random assignment design to provide experimental evidence that these programs contribute to greater success early in students’ college careers, a period when they are most likely to drop out.

The study also found, however, that the effects were not persistent and faded after two years with no effect on credit accumulation. Of additional note is that four to five week bridge programs were not alone sufficient to improve long term student outcomes. Sustained benefits may come from layering such programs with additional interventions.

The study, from the National Center for Postsecondary Research and in collaboration with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, tracked 1300 mostly Hispanic students over two years who participated in summer bridge programs at two four-year and six community colleges in Texas.

The developmental summer bridge programs studied ranged in length from four to five weeks and contained an intensive six hours a day of instruction as well as academic tutoring and college advising.

Colleges across the country have been seeking ways to help students move more quickly out of remediation and into college-level classes: nationally, six out of ten students entering community college need at least one remedial class, and only 28% of these students go on to complete a college degree or credential.

One in eight four year colleges now offer bridge programs showing that these programs have become a popular way of addressing the problem of students not being ready for college. However until this study there had been no rigorous investigation of the effectiveness of developmental summer bridge programs.

The National Center for Postsecondary Research is housed at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University and operated in collaboration with MDRC, the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, and a Harvard University professor. It was established in 2006 with a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences. NCPR measures the effectiveness of programs which are designed to help students make the transition to college.

Via Education News.

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193 Vocational Programs Fail ‘Gainful Employment’ Test

About 5 percent of vocational programs that are subject to the Education Department’s controversial gainful-employment rule failed to meet the regulation’s three key benchmarks that will eventually be required for them to receive federal student aid, data released by the department today show.

The graduates of 193 programs at 93 different institutions, all of them for-profit, are carrying debt-to-income ratios that are too high and have loan-repayment rates that are too low under the benchmarks the Department of Education established in the rule, issued in June 2011.

None of those programs will receive any sanctions because the data were released for informational purposes only. Full enforcement of the regulations will be phased in over the next several years. Starting in 2013, the affected vocational programs must meet at least one of three benchmarks in at least three out of four consecutive years in order to remain eligible for federal student aid.

In order to meet the first benchmark, at least 35 percent of a program’s graduates must be actively repaying their student loans. In addition, under the rules the median student-debt burden of a program’s graduates cannot exceed 12 percent of those students’ aggregate annual total income, nor 30 percent of their annual discretionary income.

The gainful-employment rule applies only to nondegree-granting vocational programs, which include 42,000 programs at public and private colleges, and roughly 13,000 programs at for-profit colleges. Many vocational programs are exempt from the regulation, however, because they have fewer than 30 student-loan borrowers. (Read more.)

Via Michael Stratford, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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SUNY Mulls New High School Exam to Test College Readiness

A state task force is considering the development of a new exam for high school sophomores that would assess their readiness for basic college work, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher told The Post-Standard.

In an interview last week, Zimpher said the idea is one of many being considered by SUNY’s Remediation Task Force, a panel created in May to find ways to stem the flow of students who arrive at community colleges unable to do basic work.

An exam at the end of sophomore year — which could be introduced as early as the 2013-14 school year — would allow high school students and their teachers to identify and improve the areas where they are most deficient.

“If we could possibly administer something commonly across the state in the sophomore year, we would have all of the junior and senior year to work through improvement and remediation,” Zimpher said.

The chancellor has identified the remediation issue as a key focus for SUNY this year. Statewide, 40 percent to 70 percent of students seeking a two-year associate’s degree arrive on campus needing to take at least one remedial course. Those students end up spending their time and money on classes that offer no college credits.

At Onondaga Community College, 59 percent of first-time, full-time degree-seeking students were placed into remedial classes in math, reading or English in the fall 2010 semester, spokesman Roger Mirabito said. (Read more.)

Via Paul Riede, The Post-Standard.

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